Page last updated at 07:01 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Soap actress' valleys roots pride


Michelle Collins uncovered details about the boxing past of her grandfather

Former EastEnders star Michelle Collins has discovered that her grandfather turned to boxing to fight his way out of the depression in 1930s Wales.

The actress, who was Cindy Beale in the soap, said she was proud of Jack Horton after learning of his plight in the BBC Wales TV genealogy series Coming Home.

She learned her grandfather, from the valley town of Pontypridd, had become a professional boxer but died young.

"I'm old school Welsh and really quite proud of that," she said.

She features in the first episode of the new series and visits the valleys town of Pontypridd to learn more about her family's long-standing links with the area.

It felt like the time was right to find out a bit more about it
Michelle Collins on her past

"I have always said that I was Welsh - I mean, my mum's Welsh so maybe that's what it is," said Collins, who has also starred in Two Thousand Acres of Sky, Sunburn and, most recently, Doctor Who.

"I have always been quite proud to say I'm Welsh."

Ms Collins was told moving stories about her relatives - including her family's struggle to survive during the savage depression in the coal mining industry of the 1920s and 30s.

Michelle Collins in Doctor Who
Michelle Collins in an earlier visit to Wales, to film BBC Wales' Doctor Who

In tracing her grandfather Jack Horton's story, the actress heard how he decided to take matters into his own hands and literally fight his way out of poverty by becoming a professional boxer.

In only his second professional fight, he took on British champion Bill Beynon.

Jack Horton died young, leaving behind a baby son, Daniel - Ms Collins' uncle.

Having been brought up by his grandparents, Daniel Horton had always been desperate to know more about his father's past.

Now in his 60s, he joined the former EastEnders star in Pontypridd to help trace the life of the father he never knew.

'Incredibly emotional'

During the programme, Ms Collins also discovered scandals in her family's past.

Her great-great-grandparents John and Emily Horton had married in a chapel in Pontypridd.

But Emily was keeping a secret that would have brought shame on the family at the time: she had an illegitimate child while living in the west country before she moved to south Wales.

The actress said she had been nervous about exploring her past but was glad she had made the journey she had been meaning to take for some years.

"It felt like the time was right to find out a bit more about it," she said.

"I think these things are incredibly emotional."

The new series of Coming Home starts on BBC One Wales on Monday, 16 November, at 1930 GMT

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